Week 1: Arrival
By Al Macina
The legal theme of my internship with the Chilean Defensoría(Public Defender´s Office) began immediately upon arriving at a small hotel during a layover in Costa Rica that happened to be across the street from the Costa Rican Supreme Court. In Chile, I dove right into the legal scene when I got off the train in Temuco, 675 kilometers (419 miles) south of the capital, Santiago. Temuco, a town of 250,000, sits as the capital of the ninth region of Chile, established as a result of a treaty in 1881 between the Chilean government and the indigenous Mapuche, of whom 400,000 live in the surrounding area.
Fresh from an all-night train ride (or maybe not so fresh!), on Monday morning of the 5th I headed for the courthouse, only pausing to iron my suit. A short time later, I was greeted warmly by public defenders as I sat myself in the front row of the courtroom, a new, modern building that bathed in natural light. I stood up as the panel of three judges entered. The panel acted in place of a jury, and excepting the use of Spanish, otherwise the trial proceeded in the order and manner of those performed in the United States.
The building, and moreover, the trial, were the result of recent, dramatic criminal procedure reform in Chile that permits oral, adversarial trials after almost two hundred years of a written, inquisitorial system that did not permit live testimony. Temuco and a region north of Santiago have served as pilot regions prior to the reform spreading throughout the country. Three years have now passed since the reform was implemented, making the slide show of a drug bust during the prosecution’s case-in-chief commonplace. Of course the visual evidence of the bust didn’t bode well for the defendant, but he responded with witnesses and evidence in his defense. Finally, the judges entered their chambers, that it is to say, the deliberation room.
Next week, I head out of town for a trial of eleven Mapuches, represented by attorneys from the separate Mapuche-speaking public defender office established in Temuco and elsewhere.
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